Hospital workers in Washington are running low on personal protective gear, like masks, needed to fight the COVID-19 epidemic running rampant within the state.
“We are very close to being out of face shields,” said Becca Bartles, executive director of infection prevention at Providence St. Joseph Health, a 51-hospital system, to Bloomberg. “Masks, we’re probably a couple of days away” from running out, she said.
Their solution: Make their own masks from local office supplies.
The Providence infection control experts crafted face-shields using materials from craft stores and Home Depot: marine-grade vinyl, foam, elastic, and industrial tape. Volunteers than created 500 of the home-made face shields before sending them to an at-risk Seattle hospital. The Providence team plans to acquire more raw materials from wholesale suppliers in order to create additional face-shields if ready-made masks don’t arrive.
Jennifer Bayersdorfer, Providence’s senior vice president for clinical quality, told Bloomberg that health authorities should have anticipated the shortfall in protective personal gear. “I think that they’re behind the eight-ball on this and there was plenty of warning that this going to a problem,” she stated to Bloomberg.
While Washington-state has the second-most COVID-19 infections within the nation, it is not the only state struggling to meet the needs of its hospitals and doctors who are treating thousands of patients struck with the new coronavirus. Some doctors are taking their N95 masks home to wash them with bleach so that they can be reused. Other health workers are restitching old surgical masks at points where the elastic bands failed. Hospitals are even contacting construction companies looking for goggles and masks that are worn by construction workers.
“Many ER physicians are taking things into their own hands to find ways to protect themselves,” said Aimee Moulin, an emergency room doctor at UC Davis Medical Center, to Bloomberg. “They shouldn’t be forced to worry about this. They’re going into battle and they should be armed with whatever they need.”
Face shields and masks are not the only supplies running short. Other protective gear such as gowns and nasal swabs to test patients for COVID-19 are also running low nationwide.
“These aren’t normal times,” said Vivian Reyes, an emergency room doctor in San Francisco and president of the California chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Our supply chain has been stunted. We’re not getting new supplies and our stores are almost depleted.”
Vice President Mike Pence and President Trump are discussing ways to ensure the supply chain to hospitals can get back up and running. They have called on construction companies to donate N95 masks to local hospitals during this time. In the meantime, the U.S. Defense Department is providing 5 million N95 air-filtering masks as well as 2,000 ventilators, to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic, stated Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.